Monday Morning and Already Two Cases Where Belief has Caused Depravity

I’ve said it before, belief can be beautiful but it can be deadly and depraved as well.  First, an insane (she has to be, no ifs or buts about it) woman cut her sons throat to release the demons (no seriously):

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas – A mother accused of slitting her 5-year-old’s throat early Saturday said she wanted to “release the demons” from his body, according to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Daphne Octavia Spurlock is charged with attempted capital murder.

Magnolia police and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office responded to a welfare check of a child on Roy Lane, just off FM 1488, shortly after midnight. The child’s father told police he believed his son was dead inside a residence.

Authorities found the 5-year-old Michael Spurlock covered in blood on the floor of the small mobile home.

The child had multiple lacerations to his throat, which had been slit from side to side. He also had a severe head injury and his chest was possibly crushed.

And people believe we need more religious structure in this country?  They must be joking.

On a more humorous note and (yet still depraved) act of a religious fanaticism, a mother convinces (or forces, who knows really) her children to strip down naked with her in a school parking lot in response to the administrations (obviously astute!) refusal to hand over a child to them (of whom they apparently had no legal custody):

UPPER DARBY – An entire family is in custody after cavorting in the nude in the parking lot of Upper Darby High School Friday afternoon.

Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said officers busted the entire family and transported them back to the police headquarters in the nude.

Here’s the crazy belief part:

According to the top cop, police learned the family arrived at Upper Darby High School approximately 10 a.m. to have her biological child released from school.

“Because she has no parental rights school officials would not release the child and said she couldn’t take the child out of school,” Chitwood said. “They started singing religious songs and lay prone on the sidewalk at the entrance to the building.”

School district security ordered the family off the property and they returned approximately 1 p.m. and took off all their clothes.

“They disrobed between parked cars and were running around chanting prayers to Jesus,” Chitwood said. “When police got there they locked their arms in defiant protest. When we get them back to the police station we gave them their clothes and the mom refuses to put her clothes on. She’s the leader of the pack.”

Stay classy Upper Darby.  And people wonder why I take issue with this sort of thing.

Defining Mythicism: Parallelomania, Luxor, and Acharya S

This is nothing new for those who read this blog, but Richard Carrier has posted an excellent example of a problem that plagues the case for mythicism: Parallelomania.  I’ve stated over and over (and over and over) again that correlation does not equal causation.  Here is a snippet from his blog on the subject:

Parallelomania is the particular disease of Jesus myth advocates who see “parallels” everywhere between early Christianity and all manner of pagan religions. Many of those parallels are real; don’t get me wrong. Some are even causal (Christianity really is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, which point I will soundly prove in my coming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). But most parallels are not real, or are not causally related (remember that basic rule in science: correlation is not causation). Some don’t even exist (and here bad scholarship becomes the disease: see my cautionary review of Kersey Graves’ Sixteen Crucified Saviors).

One important example of a “non-parallel” is the Egyptian nativity narrative at Luxor. I reviewed this claim years ago (Brunner’s Gottkoenigs & the Nativity of Jesus: A Brief Communication). Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) responded to that by claiming I was reading the wrong text (and also not reading it right), but she’s mistaken. She also claimed that the meaning of “immaculate conception” is up for debate; it is not. She simply cites other people making the same mistake she did, as if a mistake many people make ceases to be a mistake, which is a non sequitur. It would have been better if she had not doubled down on her error and just corrected herself. But that’s her own look out. What concerns me more is her poor treatment of the details of Egyptian history and the texts in the Luxor case.

That Luxor Thing | Richard Carrier Blogs.

His conclusion is too good to simply quote here out of context.  Do read on.

Defining Mythicism: Richard Carrier – “Did Jesus Exist?”

This video is some years old and people’s perspectives become more refined over time.  So I asked Richard if he still stands behind this video before vlogging.  Richard noted, in response:

In the intro of the S.II talk I establish caveats (that the talk itself is tongue in cheek and doesn’t address lots of other issues like the Josephus passages or letters of Paul and so on), but the overall argument is something I will formalize, possibly with some changes, in On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. Obviously that only treats Acts in relation to the question. I’ll have different chapters on extra-biblical evidence, the epistles, the gospels, etc. I give a somewhat serious version of the argument in my online debate with O’Connell (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/carrier-oconnell/)

Richard adds another caveat:

My argument now is that we face a dilemma, either (a) Acts is fiction from the ground up, or (b) it is based on an earlier set of sources; if (a), then obviously Acts is eliminated as evidence for historicity; but if (b), then the earliest sources behind Acts can be shown to have been suspiciously lacking a historical Jesus. Ironically this means the more reliable you deem Acts to be, the less likely Jesus existed as a historical person (unless you deem Acts to be so reliable as to be free of any error or distortion whatever, but only fundamentalists would believe something so absurd of any ancient historical narrative).

It’s a little crass at times, but overall humorous and provocative food-for-thought.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the Q&A; I like that carrier does not resort to conspiracy theory.  In fact in the end, during Q&A, Carrier outlines his problems with the movie Zeitgeist and his frustrations with it are my own.

Richard Carrier “Did Jesus Exist?” Skepticon 2 Redux – YouTube.

Steve Caruso Clarifies the Function of the Lead Codices

Steve Caruso responds to a blog comment which asks “if these are fakes, what is the original object they are making facsimiles of?”  The question is one that has been asked before so their function deserves to be highlighted and exposed.  Steve writes:

Whoever fabricated these is not making copies of a genuine artifact, more than producing fake “antiquities” to sell at a significant profit. As we saw on eBay, one was being offered to the tune of $13,000. That’s not a bad markup for $5 worth of ancient Roman lead.

I have seen the same pattern like this before several times only in “golden letters on leather” where a pastiche of re-used iconography is assembled in a pattern that seems authentic enough to someone who doesn’t know what to look for.

When I’ve been approached by individuals trying to fence fakes it was always a matter of presenting something with enough intrigue to make the sale, and then threatening that time is short to complete the transaction.

Within this method, the sealed book angle, given the Apocalyptic reference, is the icing on the proverbial cake, and what seals (no pun intended) the deal for a potential buyer.

via Blogger: The Aramaic Blog – Post a Comment.

 

Jordan Lead Codices: Palm Tree Iconography

There are two definitive Palm Tree stamps which were used in the production of the iconography on the lead codices.  The first is a 12-branch palm tree (Type A):

Found on these codices, for example:

The second (Type B) is one that has smaller branches (and more of them) which are shaped in a rounded fashion rather than the pyramid-like fashion from the one above:

Found on these codices, for example:

Now onto the analysis of these palm trees, starting with the one with thirteen-branches.  Right away, their authenticity is called into question.  First the number of branches is simply wrong.  Second, the style of the branches are completely inaccurate from what we would expect of iconography from the period in the region.  Palm tree iconography found on coins from the first and second Jewish wars all feature seven branches with the exception being the fourth year prutah during the first Jewish war which features eight branches:

Here are some examples of seven-branch palm trees featured on coins dating to the Bar Kokhba uprising (second Jewish war):

And even those minted by Roman procurators like Antonius Felix also contained similar palm tree iconography:

You can clearly make out the six branches in the image, even with its poor quality.

Marcus Ambivulus’ (prefect of Judea) coin iconography is the closest match one might find to the iconography of Type A found on the lead codices:

As one can see, the branches are in a wave style, that is that each branch–particularly on the top rows–form a wing-shape or a flattened “v” rather than connecting to a central trunk like the other palm tree coin iconography.  It is likely that these coins, found all over Israel and Jordan (and in museums), were the inspiration for the Type A  palm trees on the lead codices.  Although I have also found this ring with a palm tree on it as well:

This ring, said to be a temple offering during the first Jewish war (the iconography is clearly based on the year four, first Jewish war prutah), bears the same number of branches.  The thing is, Joe Zias has told me that this ring is similar to tourist trinkets he has seen in Israel, peddled by workshops as well.  In other words, if this is indeed fake (and I am inclined to believe it might be), it is remarkably similar to the design on the codices.  The difference, again, is the style of the branches.  This ring has the branhces connecting to a central trunk rather than the wave or winged pattern of the Type A palm tree on the codices and the palm tree on the Ambivulus prutah.  So while this is very similar, it is more likely, in this authors opinion, that the palm tree Type A iconography is based on the Ambivulus prutah.  Now on to Type B.

Type B palm trees like very modern in style.  In fact, the palm tree iconography of Type B is unlike anything I’ve seen from antiquity.  Even on Judea Capta coins, where the palm trees look close (but not nearly close enough), the iconography has more differences than similarities:

Clearly not the same iconography.

The only palm tree iconography I could find which resembles the iconography of the Type B palm trees on the lead codices is the Nerva sestertius:

It is this authors opinion that the Type B iconography is loosely based upon this coin, or a modern equivalent.

And just to throw another wrench into the mix, I have included some fake coins in this lot to show that, not only are modern fakes with palm tree iconography are everywhere in our modern world (and the dies easy to come by), but that these dies are extremely close to the real thing.  Fake coins (with their palm tree iconography) are everywhere and more often than not are purchased by a lot of unsuspecting people.  Chances are you probably can’t tell the difference between the real ones and the fake ones, unless you are trained with a keen eye to spot them!

Bible and Interpretation – Update on the Jordan Lead Codices

My new article on Bible and Interpretation is up!  It is a brief update on the status of the investigation into the Jordan lead codices.  Here is a snippet:

None of the codices that have been released thus far for the public have proven to be authentic (including those which Elkington has supported as authentic) and none have shown to be more than the products of workshops, skilled in peddling fakes to tourists at a hefty price. It is also true that the iconography and even some of the script has roots in actual artifacts but these qualities were repurposed, out of context, from items found in museums in Jordan.

Update _Codices4.pdf (application/pdf Object).

Fundamentalist Christians ‘Spanked’ Daughter to Death

A travesty and a tragedy.  I just don’t have the words.

CNN’s Gary Tuchman reported Monday on a fundamentalist Christian couple who killed their 7-year-old adopted daughter while practicing a violent form of discipline.

They reportedly beat their nine children regularly because they thought God wanted them to. Both parents were jailed after pleading guilty to the crime and the surviving children are now in foster homes.

via Fundamentalist Christians ‘spanked’ daughter to death | Raw Replay.

Defining Mythicism: Post Compilation of Articles on Jesus

Some have expressed interest in a compilation blog post combining all my articles on mythicism and the figure of Jesus from this site.  So below I have compiled a list of blogs I’ve written for the series ‘Defining Mythicism’.

Below are articles on the figure of Jesus which are not a part of the ‘Defining Mythicism’ series:

Below are articles on Zeitgeist and Acharya S/Dorothy Murdock.

Jesus and Adonis: The Bethlehem Connection

Yes, I know, I’m always cautioning people about parallelism/parallelmania and that doesn’t change here.  A scholar (Jill, Duchess of Hamilton) went on air and discussed the similarities between Jesus and Adonis.  I am uncertain of her qualifications on the matter, though she is clearly working on her PhD.  You can listen in here and there is a transcript available if you just want to cut through it all.  Here are a few snippets:

Could an archaeological dig under the monumental 6th century Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem verify facts about the ancient written records which tell of the people of Bethlehem venerating a grotto as the birth cave of that central cult figure Adonis, Tammuz in various mystery religions? Some mythologists insist that the Adonis shrine is the very same one as the Christians revere, that instead of originating with Jesus and Christianity, the shrine began with the cult of Adonis, a deity of rebirth and vegetation. They say that the holy cave was consecrated by the heathens to the worship of Adonis and that it was the Christians who took over this pagan centre giving a precedent later for the many early churches in Europe and America being built on the sites of pagan temples.

Indeed, the actual existence of Adonis worship in Bethlehem cannot be disputed it is just a matter of when it took place – before or after the birth of Jesus. Yet the fact that the Church of the Nativity, the oldest continuously used Christian place of worship in the world covers the site of a former temple to Adonis is seldom mentioned.

You’ll have to listen in or read on to find out more details.  My concern is that people might jump to the false conclusion that because of these similarities, Jesus did not exist.  This is silly; fictional stories can be written about historical figures.  The case for the historicity of Jesus doesn’t hinge on the nativity scene being historical.  H/T David Meadows.

Additional Related Links:

‘Doing’ History in Light of Memes and Cultural Memory Both Ancient and Modern

A recent article by Paul V.M. Flesher on Bible and Interpretation was posted on cultural memory a few days ago, and it was while I was in the process of writing this post, so I thought I might incorporate it into this discussion.  Here is a snippet and a relevant definition of ‘cultural memory’ and how we might consider using it here:

For Bible-believing students, an academic approach to the study of Scripture may constitute an attack on their personal identity. It works to recast their “cultural memory”—a key component of their psycho-social makeup which identifies their past (their personal pre-history, if you will) and locates their place in its progression. A course presenting a literary or historical Introduction to the New Testament, for example, can become for these students a threat to their self-understanding and to their ties with their religious community.

Memories shape an individual’s identity. Frequently we think of memories as recollections of events, activities, or experiences that happened in our own lives. Some of these experiences happened to us alone and constitute private memories, while other events were experienced by other people and thus comprise shared memories. Often many shared memories take place with identifiable groups of people, whether small groups like a family or kindergarten class or large groups such as citizens of a nation, members of a religion, or even fans of a World Cup soccer team. These experienced memories are not cultural memories, although a few may ultimately enter that classification.

Most cultural memories, by contrast, do not recall experienced events, but instead refer to events that happened in the past, usually to people conceived of as one’s ancestors or forerunners. These “memories” must be taught in some way, whether through formal classes, informal instruction or storytelling, or through reading. They constitute acquired knowledge rather than recollections of experienced events. Cultural memories differ from other knowledge of the past in that the events selected comprise pivotal moments that shape the identity of the group preserving their memory, whether this is an religious, ethnic, national or familial group. These are not just any events from the past, but events that are particularly relevant to the social group passing on the cultural memory. To a Frenchman, the revolution of 1789 would constitute a national cultural memory, but the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs would not. It is one thing to learn history, it is quite another to acquire a cultural memory.

I suppose the subject of this post is threefold.  First, (1) how quickly historical memes spread (often false historical memes) and (2) how quickly they can become rooted in cultural memory.  From that point, how does a historian consider the question if ‘cultural memory’ is considered ‘truth’, as rooted in society as well as individuals’ upbringing?

Every few months now, and with greater frequency since the creation of the Tea Party,  there seems to be an onslaught of fictional attributions to America’s founding fathers.  Whether it be words they never spoke, or deeds they never did, or beliefs they never held, America is on the cusp of a knowledge revolution, wherein ‘facts’ are becoming less important than tradition–especially tradition, albeit newly invented, which conforms to America’s current ideological trend.

Paul Revere is also related to Jack Black, apparently... (but don't quote me on that)

Consider the lies being told, the refashioning of history, where in certain politician’s worldviews, is a past where the founding fathers said the Pledge of Allegiance and Paul Revere warned the British, or where Jon Quincy Adams (the son of John Adams) was a founding father and that these founding fathers worked to end slavery.  I believe one commenter said it best, “Will these historical snafus cause [these politicians – ed.] any supporters? It doesn’t look like it, but it makes one wonder if they could pass a citizenship test.”  And perhaps that is also the scary part.  Who educated these politicians?  I am reminded of the comment by junior Senator Mark Pryor to Bill Maher, “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the senate.”  Aside from the obvious question (“Why the hell not!?”), we must wonder how these politicians are elected into office and why they have such a strong following when they can’t even adequately reproduce the history of the country they are attempting to serve!

The answer, I believe, is in the transmission of the meme through an ideology already set in people who, clearly, don’t care about the facts.  And I don’t even mean just one political party, because it goes beyond politics (and as it turns out, both parties are responsible for disseminating quotes without fact-checking and fabricating false quotes to fit their agendas).  In general, and probably predominantly in this country, people are starting to care less about facts and more about impact.  And once such a powerful, traditional meme is transmitted through social interactions (general conversations, viral media, social websites, whatever have you), people latch onto it without bothering to fact-check, and in some instances some seek to actively include such falsities into books and websites used to educate others.

Why this happens  is as interesting as the how, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a result of seeking to propagate an agenda.  As my generation gets older, having grown up with the internet, and a new generation who is even more in tune with technology starts to come into its own, the internet is the one-stop source of information.  I know that the internet is becoming more integral to education as well, wherein students are allowed to use it for research, often under some guidelines.  What implications does internet research have for students today when the most used online encyclopedia can be edited and fixed without any sort of peer review?  Many will undoubtedly say that Wikipedia editors try to be fair and eliminate bias where possible, but it remains to be an editable site where the majority of opinion will supersede any balance at times and with complete anonymity, anyone can edit without the slightest worry about retraction.  And such a site has repercussions for those whose work has been stolen by Wiki editors:

By the time you happen to find your work copied onto Wikipedia, it has already been propagated all over the net by Wikipedia copycats, making the job of going through their copyright infringement office all but meaningless.

And once a false statement is disseminated to other sites, blogs, social media, people will trust it because it comes from people they, themselves, trust: a blog they read all the time, a friend on Facebook or Google+, a news source which might not have verified the facts first before writing a story on it, and in a more relevant case, a news source who runs with a story about either history or religion without consulting experts in the field first.  So people will assume, without much concern, that these sorts of memes are okay to spread and are trustworthy because, well, their friend on Facebook is smart and trustworthy and has no reason to lie,and in our social-media culture the share button is all too easy and tempting to hit.  And thus the fictitious meme is spread by those who, while not having negative intentions, are caught up in a wisp of a motion they do every day, unbeknownst that the shared content wasn’t fact checked by their friends on Facebook, nor the source that their friends retrieved it from.

Your Brain on Memes (via Graphjam)

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, the internet was abuzz with quotes attributed to Martin Luther King and Mark Twain.  The quote of Martin Luther read “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy” and of Mark Twain, “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”  These were found everywhere, except by those who paused for as moment to fact-check, and a good thing they did!  It turns out they were both falsely attributed–that is to say, fake.  And as a result of some noteworthy research, a trail could be found–where it originated wasn’t some malicious attempt to subvert history but a ‘whisper-down-the-alley’ mash-up of cut and pastes which, somewhere along the way, were so convoluted what became of it was a fictional quote.  And as it turns out, we are doubly guilty of allowing this as it happens a lot.

Even a fellow Biblioblogger, known for his fact-checking and for his ridicule of others who spread false information, was just recently caught using a fake quote from Charles Darwin in order to promote a particular ideal to which he follows.  The quote was spread by Lady hope who claimed to have been with Darwin on his deathbed, but those who we know were actually there (like his family) state firmly she was never at the bed of Darwin and that her story is a falsity.   And the Biblioblogger’s source in this case was a friend on Facebook, one  with whom I also am familiar and know did not spread the quote with any intention of deceiving, he simply didn’t know.  The quote can be found on all sorts of quote sites, especially Christian/Creationist sites.  This Biblioblogger picked up on it, trustingly, and proceeded to spread it, unaware that he was disseminating false information; it is a rarity with this Biblioblogger, but even he, the ineffable scholar he is, can fall prey to his own ideological desires and cultural memory.

And it doesn’t even just occur with the use of quotes; chain letters are another popular internet phenomena proving, for our own age at least, that people care little about checking into the truth of claims and more about the message behind them.  Indeed, letters are sent around without a care whether or not the individuals are real or completely fictitious.  And this really brought to light, in my mind, interesting parallels to the past, sans current technology, and how quickly a meme can spread and change and what implications there might be.

When you stop to consider how popular ideas can become, and how ardent we are, as social beings who seek out patterns and affinities, about creating cultural references to popular ideas, is it any wonder that we fabricate and create and exemplify and exaggerate?  Some fictional legends about our founding fathers are already ingrained in our cultural memory and some are even teaching them as fact!  For example, I was tough in elementary school that George Washington had wooden teeth.  It was only when I was older and was able to read things for myself that i found this to be a complete fiction.  Washington actually had teeth carved from ivory and gold.  One set of them is on display at a Baltimore museum.  There are, of course, folk legends about historical figures: Johnny Appleseed, Black Bart, Buffalo Bill, and so on.  These were historical figures with huge legends about them.  But there are also folk stories, based around fictional characters from dime novels, which are also ingrained in our cultural memory.  Stories about Cordwood Pete and Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Ichabod Crane, and John Henry (a very noteworthy African-American folk legend) abound and I am certain there are those who believe these stories are based off historical figures, even though they are characters invented by dime novelists and writers.  There are even fiction figure like Uncle Sam (who is the personification of America, whose name stems from a historical person Samuel Wilson) who make up a large part of our cultural patriotism, who of course are not historical figures, but created to exemplify certain ideals we felt, as a nation, best covered us.

The same seems to be true for those in antiquity.  In a paper, soon to be published in a volume of great interest (if I don’t say so myself), Kurt Noll argues that the spread of memes in antiquity happened quite fast, faster than people currently give credit.  This actually makes sense, if we consider it from a standpoint of the ancient mythic mind.  In antiquity, fact-checking even among the more elite of society–the historiographer and biographer for example–was virtually nonexistent, and among the lay audiences or listeners of tales fact checking was just not important.  While it might have taken time for news to funnel through the trade networks and social channels in antiquity, once a meme was transmitted, they took on a life of their own.  This is perhaps why we have so many differing narratives, conflicting and divisive, even about common myths (like with what happened to Romulus).

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The same might be said about early Christianity (whether you believe Jesus was an earthly figure or not–it is irrelevant for this discussion); Bultmann, a believer in the earthly, historical figure of Jesus, still made clear his views that what we have in the New Testament represent cultural memory, or kerygma–the post-Easter traditions–from the early church and not ‘history’ in the sense of real, historical events.   Fictional words, deeds, and actions attributed to Jesus and the early church fathers are commonly found in our sources.   The Canonical Gospels are no different.  When the controversial Jesus Seminar analyzed the 1500 words supposedly spoken by Jesus, they could only agree on 2% likely being authentic.  In fact, 82% of the sayings attributed to the figure of Jesus were thrown out.  Of course, of the 2% left which the Jesus Seminar believed were authentic, other scholars have put forth studies showing they aren’t at all authentic (most notably, the inexpensive book The Messiah Myth by Thomas Thompson comes to mind, but also Thomas L. Brodie’s massive, yet decently priced, book The Birthing of the New Testament–so pick them up!).

In antiquity, this was a common occurrence.  Moses, for example, is often portrayed, similarly to Jesus, in different ways, speaking different (sometimes contradicting the modern canonical narrative we now possess) words, imitating certain actions, traveling to different lands, and so on.  Like American folk history, legends were built up around ancient individuals who had historically lived, and sometimes the legends came about during their own lifetimes, like Julius Caesar, but usually after their deaths like Apollonius of Tyana, Socrates, and Pythagoras.  Other stories, though, also arose from fictional characters, or those who appeared in fiction writing but were historicized later into cultural memory, like Lycurgus of Sparta, Moses, Abraham, Judith, Horatius Cocles, Romulus and Remus, Aeneas, and so on.  There are perhaps hundreds of cases where individuals who never existed were historicized into the past in antiquity.  No scholar worth their salt would dispute this (the numbers are too numerous).  The question isn’t about whether or not fictional characters could be accepted as historical figures, but the speed at which a fictional story could transform into a mythic one.

In out day, cultural memory plays a large part in the spread of memes circulating around false information.  Of course the internet and social media technology certainly don’t hinder the process.  But if cultural memory is the reason why we spread information the way we do, as self-serving as that might appear, then we must expect that in antiquity, cultural memory was also a catalyst for the spreading and distortion of memes surrounding legends and myth.  The introduction (by Bernard Knox) to M.I. Finley’s The World of Odysseus (See also Barbara Graziosi’s Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic), contains an interesting little story about the power of cultural memory and the spreading of a story while highlighting the speed at which this can be spread within just a few decades.

In 1953 the late Professor James Notopoulos was recording oral heroic song in the Sfakia district of western Crete, where illiterate oral bards were still to be found. He asked one of them, who had sung of his own war experience, if he knew a song about the capture of the German general and the bard proceeded to improvise one. The historical facts are well known and quite secure. In April 1944 two British officers, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain Stanley Moss, parachuted into Crete, made contact with Cretan guerrillas, and kidnapped the German commanding general of the island, one Karl Kreipe.

The general was living in the Villa Ariadne at Knossos, the house Sir Arthur Evans had built for himself during the excavations at the site. Every day, at the same time, the general was driven south from the villa to the neighboring small town of Arkhanes, where his headquarters were located. He came home every night at eight o’clock for dinner.  The two British officers, dressed in German uniforms, stopped the car on its way home to Knossos; the Cretan partisans overpowered the chauffeur and the general. The two officers then drove the car through the German roadblocks in Heraklion (the general silent with a knife at his throat) and left the car on the coast road to Rethymo. They then hiked through the mountains to the south coast, made rendezvous with a British submarine, and took General Kreipe to Alexandria and on to Middle East Headquarters in Cairo.

So much for epic history. Nine years after the event the British protagonists have been reduced to one nameless general whose part in the operation is secondary and there can hardly be any doubt that if the song is still sung now the British element in the proceedings is practically nonexistent—if indeed it managed to survive at all through the years in which Britain, fighting to retain its hold on Cyprus, became the target of bitter hostility in Greece and especially among the excitable Cretans.

It took the Cretan oral tradition only nine years to promote to the leadership of the heroic enterprise a purely fictitious character of a different nationality. This is a sobering thought when one reflects that there is nothing to connect Agamemnon, Achilles, Priam, and Hector with the fire blackened layer of thirteenth-century ruins known as Troy VII A (the archaeologists’ candidate for Homer’s city) except a heroic poem which cannot have been fixed in its present form by writing until the late eighth century, at least four illiterate centuries after the destruction.

Sobering indeed.  We have a world where a search on a browser will produce exact results to a search queue, which puts information at our fingertips, in our faces, in mere seconds..  Memes spread quickly in our era as a result of how quickly information is available.  But even in pre-computer culture, where memes are spread via oral tradition, something common in antiquity, it only took 9 years to alter the story completely, introducing a new character completely fabricated, and shine light on another faction of the narrative.  Only 9 years.  And the reader is only told of the one bard.  If the same question were posed to other bards, the song might be completely different still.

So the question that follows all of this is how does one locate ‘history’ when even our earliest sources are nothing better than cultural memory?  And clearly the first Christian communities, whomever they were, could not agree upon those existing cultural memories (which is why we have competing doctrines, competing Gospels, conflicting theologies and exegeses).  This doesn’t just follow for Christianity, but Judaism, or the history of the Greeks, or the Romans, or the Sumerians, or those civilizations for which we have nothing but bones and pottery shards?  How does one separate ‘history’ from the ‘meme’ and cultural memory when we have trouble even in our own day!  And it does make one wonder why future historians will be arguing about over our generation, assuming we don’t kill each other before then.

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